Aardman Studios create terrific claymation animated features -- such as Wallace and Gromit -- that are often as entertaining for adults as for kids. They take on the high seas with their 3-d movie The Pirates! Band of Misfits and wind up going more for cute than clever -- and somewhat landlocked as well.

It's 1837, and the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) enjoys the pirate life. He has a loyal crew, a fat unusual-looking parrot named Polly, a sturdy ship, and a love of Ham Nite. However, he's lost the Pirate of the Year competition (the winner is the pirate with the most booty) over 20 years in a row, and this year looks no different. He seems hopelessly outclassed by rivals Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven), Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek), and Peg Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry). It doesn't help that the first several attempts at plundering are absolute disasters.

Things start looking up when the Pirate Captain tries plundering the ship of Charles Darwin (David Tennant). Darwin is a shy, mousy, lonely scientist; he also recognizes Polly as a living dodo, which he thinks can win him the Scientist of the Year Award. The Pirate Captain wants to win too -- to claim the incredible reward that comes with winning, and using that reward to win Pirate of the Year. But Darwin and his money Bobo (a silent creature who "talks" by holding up a series of cards) keep trying to steal Polly. What's worse, the competition is in London, where Queen Victoria (Imelda Stauton) displays a homicidal dislike of pirates.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is enjoyable enough, but it could have used more insanity and manic energy (the latter popping up in a few chase scenes). While Hugh Grant is fun as the ever-confident captain as obsessed with his beard as the competition, the rest of the pirates don't even rate actual names: Martin Freeman is the Pirate with a Scarf (actually the first mate), Ashely Jensen is the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (a woman in disguise), etc. There's some nice physical comedy from the silent Bobo, but most of the jokes are quick chuckles instead of the clever humor of the best Aardman features. And for reasons beyond me, this movie landlocks itself in London for a surprisingly long time; shouldn't pirates be adventuring on the high seas?

I liked The Pirates! Band of Misfits but I was hoping for more humor for the grown-ups watching it with their kids.

Overall grade: C+

Reviewed by James Lynch

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